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Very Volatile Volitional

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More Advanced Volitional Forms

We learned in a previous lesson that the volitional form is used when one is set out to do something. In this section, we're going to cover some other ways in which the volitional form is used, most notably, the negative volitional form.

Negative Volitional

You may have seen the negative volitional form in a verb conjugation table and wondered, "What the heck is that used for?" Well the answer is not much, or to put it more accurately, there are various ways it can be used but almost all of them are extremely stiff, formal, and seldom used. In fact, it's so rare that I only found one explanation in English on the web or anywhere else. (I also found this one in Japanese.)

The negative volitional is used to express negative intention. This means that there is a will for something to not happen or that someone is set out to not do something. As a result, because one is trying not to do something, it's probably not going to happen. Essentially, it is a very stiff and formal version of 「でしょう」 and 「だろう」. While this form is practically never used in daily conversations, you might still hear it in movies, etc.

Verbs are conjugated to the negative volitional by simply attaching 「まい」 to the verb. Another alternative is to attach 「まい」 to the stem. The conjugation for the negative volitional is quite different from those we are used to because it is always the last conjugation to apply even for the masu-form. There is no way to conjugate 「まい」 to the masu-form, you simply attach 「まい」 to the masu-form conjugation.

Using 「まい」 to express a will to not do something


(1) 相手は剣の達人だ。そう簡単には勝てまい
- Your opponent is a master of the sword. I doubt you can win so easily.

(2) そんな無茶な手段は認めますまい
- I won't approve of such an unreasonable method!

We already learned that you could use the volitional form to say "let's" and to express an attempt do something. But that doesn't mean you can use the negative volitional to say "let's not" or "try not to". The tone of this grammar is one of very strong determination to not do something, as you can see in the following examples.

(1) その時までは決して彼に会うまいと心に決めていた。
- Until that time, I had decided in my heart to not meet him by any means.

(2) あの人は、二度と嘘をつくまいと誓ったのです。
- That person had sworn to never lie again.

In order to express "let's not", you can use the verb, 「やめる」 with the regular volitional. In order to express an effort to not do something, you can use 「ようにする」 with the negative verb.

(1) 明日に行くのをやめよう
- Let's not go tomorrow. (lit: Let's quit going tomorrow.)

(2) 肉を食べないようにしている
- Trying not to eat meat.

Using the volitional to express a lack of relation

We will now learn a grammar that's actually practical for everyday use using the negative volitional grammar. Basically, we can use both volitional and negative volitional forms to say it doesn't matter whether something is going to happen or not. This is done by attaching 「が」 to both the volitional and the negative volitional form of the verb that doesn't matter.
Using the volitional to express a lack of relation


(1) あいつが大学に入ろうが入るまいが、俺とは関係ないよ。
- Whether that guy is going to college or not, it has nothing to do with me.

(2) 時間があろうがあるまいが、間に合わせるしかない。
- Whether there is time or not, there's nothing to do but make it on time.

(3) 最近のウィルスは強力で、プログラムを実行しようがしまいが、ページを見るだけで感染するらしい。
- The viruses lately have been strong and whether you run a program or not, I hear it will spread just by looking at the page.

Using 「であろう」 to express likelihood

We already found out that the negative volitional can be used as kind of a formal version of 「でしょう」 and 「だろう」. You may wonder, how would you do the same thing for the volitional? The answer is to conjugate the verb 「ある」 from the formal state of being 「である」 to the volitional to produce 「であろう」. Remember 「でしょう」 can already be used as a polite form, so this form is even a step above that in formality. We'll see what kind of language uses this form in the examples.
Using 「であろう」 to express likelihood


(1) 今後50年、人間が直面するであろう問題に正面から向き合って、自ら解決をはかりつつ、そのノウハウが次の産業となるシナリオを考えたい。(from
- I would like to directly approach problems that humans have likely encounter the next 50 years and while measuring solutions, take that knowledge and think about scenarios that will become the next industry.

(2) もちろん、生徒数減少の現在、学科の新設は困難であろうが、職業科の統廃合や科内コースの改編などで時代に合わせた変革が求められているはずである。(from
- Of course, new educational facilities will likely be difficult with this period of decreasing student population but with reorganizations of subjects and courses within subjects, there is supposed to be demand for reform fit for this period.

Using 「かろう」 as volitional for 「い」 endings

We learned in the lesson about formal grammar that 「ではない」 was the negative of 「である」. So how would we say something like 「であろう」 but for the negative tense? The answer is to use yet another type of volitional for negative tenses and i-adjectives used only in formal and literary contexts. You can think of this grammar as a very old-fashioned version for i-adjectives and negative 「い」 endings.

The conjugation rule is simple: remove the last 「い」 and attach 「かろう」. You can use it for negative tenses and i-adjectives just like the 「かった」 past conjugation form.

Using 「かろう」 to express volition for 「い」 endings


(1) どんな商品でもネットで販売するだけで売上が伸びるというものではなかろう。(from
- It's not necessarily the case that sales go up just by selling any type of product on the net.

(2) 運動を始めるのが早かろう遅かろうが、健康にいいというのは変わりません。
- Whether you start exercising early or late, the fact that it's good for you health doesn't change.

(3) 休日であろうが、なかろうが、この仕事では関係ないみたい。
- Whether it's a holiday or not, it looks like it doesn't matter for this job.

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This page has last been revised on 2009/7/9